In my early twenties, it was relatively easy to engage in a personal pursuit to change the world. I had the privilege of time and convenience, and I was able to travel and create solutions to social needs in rural communities.
As priorities changed, leaving family, work, and school behind has become a lot more difficult. I often wrestle with how I can continue to contribute and help make a difference while balancing commitments in Toronto. It's a battle many of us seem to have encountered.
When the School of Liberal Arts and Science at the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning approved the proposal for a new course on Social Entrepreneurship, I recognized it as part of the solution to my internal conflict. Here was an opportunity to contribute by working with and teaching young leaders to create sustainable social change through entrepreneurship.
Developing the curriculum was not without its challenges, considering the field of social entrepreneurship is quite new and there are limited resources. Those that are available, while rich in content, were not applicable to the areas I wanted to address in the course. I chose not to work from an existing textbook – instead, a reading list was drawn from online sources to ensure each unit was adequately addressed.
The course also provided enriching opportunities. To supplement the readings, our social entrepreneurship series includes guest speakers who are young leaders making a mark in the field. They show students it's possible to generate income while also helping shape our world in a positive way. As one student notes: "I used to consider social entrepreneurship a 'brand name concept.' What really changed my mindset was seeing the passion toward what (social entrepreneurs) did."
The class discussions provoke debates and we ask critical questions about day-to-day decisions. We explore case studies and students learn to create innovative solutions by re-framing problems and finding new attractors.
As an elective course, students come from a variety of programs and they will work in different industries after graduation. The assignments encourage them to explore social entrepreneurship within their fields of interest, which is embraced. "I found my entrepreneur by searching for anyone within the design or engineering industry that was changing their home environment by tackling problems that were 'already solved,'" a student from the inaugural class said. "They took the flaws in each solution and magnified the problem within."
The curriculum takes an interdisciplinary approach while promoting common principles. The goal is to develop and design a social action plan as a final project for the course. As an educator it has been imperative to find resources that can assist students in taking their plans to the next level. Students are encouraged to submit their social-action business plans to new-venture competitions that can provide them with the resources to implement their projects – taking it from idea to opportunity.
As students learn in the course, measuring the value of social outcomes is challenging. But if we can change one student's perspective on his or her ability to make a difference, it's a good start.
Rumeet Billan is a social entrepreneur, educator and doctoral student at the University of Toronto. At the age of 25 and again at 28, she was named one of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women. Ms. Billan continues to integrate her business and doctoral studies with her passion for creating change through education.